1. Origin and Progress of the Armenian church
Antiquities of the Christian Church
XXIII. Of the Armenian Church
1. Origin and Progress of the Armenian church
Among the sovereigns of the East, at the time of Christ, was one by the name of Abgar, or Abgarus, the seat of whose government was at Edessa in Mesopotamiah. He is called by Tacitus (An. L. 12. 0. 12) king of the Arabs, though in the Armenian Chronicles he is placed among the Armenian kings, of the dynasty of the Arsacidae. It is said that this king was converted to Christianity merely by hearing of the wonderful works of Christ, and that he sent a special messenger with a letter to invite Christ to come to his court, where he promised him rest and protection from his enemies. To this request Christ replied that it was impossible for him to come in person, but that after his ascension, he would send one of his disciples, in his place. Eusebius and others relate that our Saviour took a handkerchief and pressing it upon his face, an exact likeness of himself was miraculously impressed upon it, which he sent to Abgar as a mark of favor.
Moses Chorenensis, the Armenian historian, states that our Saviour sent to king Abgar his own likeness, but makes no allusion to the manner in which it was procured.
This last writer also declares, that after the death of Christ the apostle Thomas, in obedience to the command of the Saviour, and agreeably to his promise, sent Thaddeus, one of the seventy, to Edessa, who healed the king of an incurable disease under which he had been suffering for seven years, and afterwards, baptized him in the name of Christ. Many other miracles are said to have been performed by Thaddeus, and "the whole city," says Moses, "was baptized."
This is the Armenian account of the beginning of their church, and Eusebius bears his testimony to the same facts in every important particular.
The immediate successors of Abgar, however, apostatized from the christian faith, and by their persecutions Christianity was almost exterminated from the country. It would appear, however, that individual Christians and perhaps small bodies of them, were found in the Armenian territories up to the time of Dertad (Diridates) 2d, A. D. 259, during whose reign Christianity was revived, through the instrumentality of Gregory, and it has ever since been the religion of the Armenian people.
Gregory, called also Loosavorich, the Enlightener, wan Armenian of royal descent, who having been brought up in Cesarea, was there educated in the christian religion.
Having become connected with the king's suite, and refusing to unite in his idolatrous worship, he was grievously tortured, and kept in close confinement in a cave for many years. Being at length delivered, he was instrumental in the conversion of the king, and many of the nobles. He afterwards repaired to Cesarea, where he was ordained bishop, by Leonties, bishop of Cesarea, and returning to Armenia Proper, he baptised the king and multitudes of the people. In short, the nation now became Christian, though some of its chiefs soon afterwards apostatized, and through their means the king of Persia was enabled, for a while, to carry on a persecution against the religion of the cross. At subsequent periods in the Armenian annals we read of the most violent and dreadful persecutions of the Armenian Christians, by the pagan and Mohammedan kings of Persia, as political changes placed the former under the power of the latter.
In the year 406, the Armenian alphabet was invented, and in 411, the Bible was translated into the Armenian language from the Septuagint.
In the year 491, a synod of Armenian bishops rejected the decisions of the council of Chalcedon, by which act they cut themselves off from the charity and communion of the other branches of the christian church, and they are to this day denominated schismatics and heretics by both the Greeks and the Papists.
As to the progress of the Armenian church in after ages, little indeed can be said, unless we follow the examples of their own historians, and quote as evidences of her prosperity, the number of churches and convents erected, the great increase of religious feast and fast days, and of ceremonies in general, and the astonishing miracles performed by worldly and graceless monks. The people were left in almost total ignorance, while the ecclesiastics were continually embroiled in disputes with the Greeks on points of little importance, or waging intestine wars of ambition with each other, each striving for the highest place. As might be expected, every species of irreligion was rife under such influences.
The only redeeming trait was the unflinching resoluteness with which property, liberty, and life were frequently sacrificed to the Magian and Mohammedan persecutors of the Armenian church.